Remembering Pran in his birth centenary year: The good bad guy of Hindi cinema

Pran, the lovable villain

Pran, the lovable villain   | Photo Credit: UNKNOWN

A versatile actor, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award winner lent interesting layers to villainy, which not many attempted before or after him

Sunil Sikand has been posting on social media some memorable photographs of his father Pran, whose birth centenary is being celebrated. He started with the one where the legendary villain of the big screen is dressed as a woman. Most could not recognise him in the photo which, according to Sikand, a filmmaker, was a prank played by his father during the wedding of his (Pran’s) elder brother. This was not a one off. He played Sita in Ram Leela in Shimla opposite Madan Puri, who played Rama. Who would have thought the actors would go on to become two of the most successful villains of Hindi cinema.

“He was a master of disguise. My favourite performances of him are in Halaku, Shaheed and Jungle Main Mangal where he completely transformed himself according to the demands of the character,” says Sikand, who was an assistant director in Dharam Veer and Amar Akbar Anthony, films in which Pran played crucial roles. “Punctual and disciplined, for him, make-up was an integral part of acting. We would work extra-hard with the make-up man to design his look.”

A versatile actor, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award winner lent interesting layers to villainy, which not many attempted before or after him. Nobody thought of K.N. Singh, who used to be a popular villain before Pran arrived on the scene, as somebody who could woo the heroine and become a competition to the hero. He was even paid more than the heroes. Be it Zanjeer, Madhumati, Do Badan, Love in Tokyo, An Evening In Paris, Brahmachari or Ram Aur Shyam, Pran lent a certain dignity to his roles that were closer to life. He could play a rustic zamindar or smuggler with equal felicity.

Remembering Pran in his birth centenary year: The good bad guy of Hindi cinema

Off-screen, Sikand describes Pran as a man of ethics. He declined to accept the Best Supporting Actor Filmfare award for Beimaan because Ghulam Mohammed was not given the Best Music Director award for Pakeezah. Describing him as a doting father, Sikand, who has directed his father in Farishta and Lakshmanrekha, says, Pran was in love with the camera. “He started as a photographer and carried through that passion. He was also fond of collecting pipes.”

Considerate colleague

Amitabh Bachchan, who worked with the three-time Filmfare Award winner in over a dozen films, remembers him as a “considerate colleague” who lent “sophisticated elegance” to his surroundings. “He was soft-spoken, reserved and a gentleman,” says Bachchan in a written statement. “However, none of these traits could be related to the roles he played on the screen. This proves his acting prowess,” he adds.

Bachchan also underlines his proficiency in Urdu. Sikand attributes this to his father’s education in the Urdu medium. He would often use Urdu words in films, the favourite being barkhurdar. It is said that Pran used to write his dialogues in Persian.

Ameya Bundellu, a young film historian, who has tracked the filmography of Pran says, the actor constantly evolved when others around him remained trapped in an image. “He started as a hero in Punjabi films. After the Partition, when he moved to Bombay, he was offered negative roles, starting with Ziddi and Badi Behan, but he never allowed them to become one dimensional.”

In the 1950s and 60s, he was pitted against the top heroes of the time, but he stood out. Writers penned characters with Pran in mind. “He didn’t need to bring any physicality or brute force to the characters. His menacing look was enough to fill the audience with fear. He internalised the emotions so well that you could see different shades of grey in the same character and, at times, a streak of reformation too,” says Ameya, citing Jis Desh Main Ganga Behti Hai, where as dacoit Raka, he has a change of heart towards the end. “He also brought in a touch of humour to the crook as he bonded with Kishore Kumar in Half-Ticket,” adds Ameya, who runs a film club Mumbai which screens little-known films. One of them is Nanha Farishta, where Pran, along with two other villains of the time, Ajit and Anwar, finds a baby girl who changes their life.

Amitabh Bachchan, Pran and Hema Malini in the film ‘Kasauti’

Amitabh Bachchan, Pran and Hema Malini in the film ‘Kasauti’   | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

His off-screen image of a thorough gentleman also helped. “We never faced any problem in school for being the children of a popular villain,” says Sikand. “There was no controversy around him,” remarks Ameya.

Upkar, where he played the lovable Malang Chacha, changed his villainous image forever. People accepted him as a stern grandfather in Parichay, an aggressive Michael in Majboor and an honest police constable in Beimaan. In “Victoria No. 203, though Navin Nischol is the hero, it is Pran and Ashok Kumar who drive the narrative,” reminds Ameya. In Dharma, one of the big hits of 1973, he played the title role of a dacoit. Its song ‘Raaz Ki Baat Kehdoo Toh’ featuring him and Bindu was a hit too. So was the song ‘Hum Bolega to Bolenge Ki Bolta Hai’ from Kasauti in which he plays a Nepali. In the 1980s and early 90s, he continued to play supporting roles. From the stern jailor of Kaalia to an imposing patriarch in Sanam Bewafa, Pran’s dialogues continued to stir emotions.

While Ameya looks back at his on-screen chemistry with Ashok Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan, Sikand fondly remembers his roles opposite Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, and Shammi Kapoor. “He gave pran (life) to every role!”

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 7:55:44 AM |

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